Francesco D'Adamo

The following text is part of the Decade catalog, 2021. 

“My studio is in a small town, so visits are rather rare and I do nothing to encourage them. Yet sometimes painting can create an unexpected link with a special person, and that’s what happened with Maria. Between her work abroad and the movement restrictions imposed in the last year, we had very few opportunities to meet, but not knowing each other before gave us the privilege to talk starting from scratch.
We have therefore decided to organize part of our conversations in the following dialogue about painting.”

M: When did you start painting? Did you grow up among artists in your family and this lead you to painting or did you take this path autonomously?

F: When I was just a kid I must have shown some ability in drawing or at least that I enjoyed it and when I was about 10 years old my parents signed me up for taking private classes with a roman painter who lived in Termoli. I attended those for approximately 4 years. There were other alumni, every one of them had a different approach towards painting and it was a rather special place, considering the time we were in. We used to paint landscapes, stormy seas and sometimes portraits. I can’t remember exactly how her way of teaching was, but certainly Elda had an energetic painting with absolutely no fear of getting her hands dirty or to squeeze color tubes, and probably this is the most important lesson she gave me. Together with the memories of the smell, the lights and sounds in those rooms, which are unforgettable. When I started high school though, I put painting on the side and I chose a different path. I quit the painting classes and from then on painting has gone through cyclic periods of long absence and quick enthusiastic presence in my life, these last ones subject to frustration due to lack of continuity and space. This went on until 2010, when all the pieces fell in the right place and I finally started again to paint. There was an event though which had happened a long time before, where I think I had some sort of imprinting. When I was very young, my parents brought me with them to meet my mums uncle, a Franciscan monk with a very long beard who lived in a small monastery in Tuscany. He gave me a box with oil colors as a gift. When we came back home, they put these colors away from me on a high shelf, probably considering them potentially “dangerous” for a small kid. When I was alone at home, I used to climb on a chair to get to the colors, open them, touch and smell them. I found them wonderful and mysterious. To be honest, this feeling in me never changed since then; the only difference is that now I don’t have to keep it as a secret.

M: Which artists mostly inspired your painting experience?

F: Some artists’ work deeply touches me, with a mixed feeling of pleasure and restlessness, which often translates into the need of painting. Among many, I would name Burri, Afro, Sironi, Boccioni, De Kooning, Marca-Relli. Their influence is clear and manifold, with a direct connection to my work. Yet it’s probably from music that I get the stronger influence. What I try to do comes from the translation of the formal values of both languages, their reciprocal impact, their dialog. Therefore, composers like Bartok, Shostakovich, Bach, Stravinskij, Scelsi, Kodaly, Penderecki, Coltrane and many others have a great influence on me, together with other roles, such as writers, photographers, film directors, etc. It’s not only the final shape of their work which drives my choices, but the way they created and solved problems in their disciplines. These are the more obvious and immediate links that come to my mind. Yet I believe that the visual imaginary that I unavoidably draw on was generated a long time ago, with strong influences that often don’t even have a name. For example, I’m thinking about the lights and shapes of the city I grew up in, Termoli, or the dark colors of the anime that populated my childhood. Music album covers, comics, games, books. I have one right now right here, which I recently found in my parents’ house: it’s called “Gli Dei Sulla Terra” (Gods on Earth), a book halfway between history and mythology, it has terribly dark and tough images, ferrous tints, vague and unclear backgrounds. Flipping through it now, thirty years later, I understand how much I owe to its author.

M: Would you say that you had an epiphany at some point in your life, staring at a painting or listening to a certain song?

F: Yes, I feel like it happens all the times, even if with different intensity. The strongest and rarest ones mark you forever and can generate deep changes in you. Both with painting and music, there is this moment when everything converges and unfolds in a perfect way, becomes all-embracing and looks clear and right, full and harmonic. It’s like things are happening on their own and you become at the same time actor and spectator of something that appears much wider than you. Is this an epiphany? I guess so. You can try to facilitate it or set particular circumstances to welcome it, but there is no specific formula able to evoke it. When it happens meeting someone else’s work, then the epiphany leaves you breathless. Talking about painting, I immediately think about the “Ex seccatoi” (ex tobacco dryers) in Città di Castello which host numerous Burri cycles, some paintings by Boccioni I saw at MOMA, or the first time I stared at a painting by Afro. For the music the list would be extremely long. Their tragic beauty changes you forever, since it allows you to see or listen to something that you probably already felt but you never experienced through such a strong manifestation.

M: Where does the idea of a painting come from? How would you describe the process of creation of a painting?

F: I don’t think that behind the making of my paintings there is an idea in a broad sense. It’s always very specific, painting related. Seen from the outside, maybe the whole process can be summarized with an alternation of moments of inclusion and exclusion. An empty canvas gives you such a wide spectrum of possibilities that the first step is to exclude some of them. Actually, choosing the painting dimensions and the canvas material already goes in that direction. Typically my paintings develop in cycles and series and choosing which one to expand is another important defining element, and represents more than one choice happening in one place. Then, when the brush touches the canvas for the first time, the inclusive process takes over and the real conversation among the different parts begins. This goes on until I can find an equilibrium. Which can persist. Which doesn’t ask for new elements nor to exclude some of those it already has. It’s then that the dialog ends and the painting is done. I typically give myself a couple of days to understand if I judged too quickly and the dialog is not actually over. To be honest, during the past years I realized that my strongest paintings are often those which hide beneath their surface one or even more failures. Overturning a painting gives you a strong feeling of freedom and at the same time offers you a consistent amount of raw material to begin with, I would say it is an ideal condition. In only a few cases the painting reaches completion quickly and without obstacles. When it happens, I feel like a wall builds up between us, like it materialized out of nowhere, and any revision seems almost impossible. Giving yourself rules encourages the process of painting, instead of confining it, as you would maybe think. These rules and directions are not provided by someone else –only partially by the people that came before you- but part of the game is making your own. And fine-tuning the rules makes the game more interesting.

M: Which materials do you prefer for your work?
F: Thinking about the word paint my mind goes to the brilliance and smell of the oil paint, probably like most people. Rarely though I make a painting entirely out of oil colors, since some of their features don’t lend themselves to the creation of a painting the way I want. Through the years, I investigated many different mediums from the painting tradition, searching for the perfect one for my needs. The conclusion I came to is that there isn’t one unique that can fit all. The solution is then to decide painting by painting, based on their progress, choosing what to use and preparing the appropriate colors starting from the powder pigments. This process never bores me. It has something both playful and transcendental in it, which makes me feel at the roots of the painting process. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the classic oil and acrylic tubes, I still use them daily, but rarely they are protagonists in a painting. Another aspect that influences the choice of the material is its smell and its consistency. For instance acrylic painting looks and smells quite aseptic and impersonal to me. Oils instead, with all their auxiliaries and varnishes, awakens all my senses.

M: Do you find that some aspects of your personality are shown in your paintings?
F: This is something I have never thought about before your question. Which makes me wonder which aspects are more evident and which hidden.

M: You previously said you are fascinated by gloomy colors, maybe that’s symbol of an introvert attitude. In addition, looking at the clear trait of the brush on your paintings one could think of an impulsive personality. Is that the case?
Before answering to this question, I searched once again for the definition of “introvert”, I was a bit skeptical to be honest. Indeed in the examples of jobs or activities typically performed by “introvert” personalities the first word that comes out is painter, there has to be a reason then. Though, I believe that spending some time doing things on your own is simply human and I find it also terribly healthy. In the years, in order to better use my time, I became more selective towards what surrounds me, trying to avoid everything that is extremely repetitious or that leaves me indifferent. Eventually, I would see painting as an incredibly extrovert practice, or at least its outcome if not the act itself. In fact as a painter you give to the external world, and in a permanent way (at least on human scale), something that’s part of you, your way of reorganizing what happens around you, your memories, experiences, desires. There is always a certain inclination to the outside and to the others, and the willingness to share, even when it happens through enigmas or subtle hints. 

Regarding the other aspect you mentioned, I think my paintings are actually more impulsive than I am, when I am away from the easel. Yet that black line that all of a sudden falls on the canvas, without second thoughts or possibility of return, is actually the outcome of a fast analysis of shapes, spaces and ratios, more than the result of an impulsive and uncontrolled action. It is difficult to translate it into words or numbers, and seen from the outside it can be easily mistaken for an impulsive and instinctive behavior. You also brought up the fact that I seem attracted to gloomy colors. I do find that this wide spectrum of more undefined elements, in painting as in music, cinema, photography etc. leaves more room for imagination. They bring with them a certain intensity, ambiguity and mystery. And with tension it comes the motion towards something, a transformation and, why not, an end.

M: Is there an implicit message you want to communicate with your paintings, or do you focus mainly on their aesthetic impact?
F: I cannot split these two aspects, and I don’t question whether it is possible to do so. Every painting mark brings with it an aesthetic experience and the building of a meaning. I see this as a storytelling. Therefore, I ensure that the painting brings with it its own story. Then a single painting can be even part of a greater story, together with other paintings. This determines what is going to appear on the canvas, and in which way.

M: Do you think that making series of paintings with the same subject helps the storytelling, like they were chapters of a book?
F: Yes, this is an essential aspect. Collecting the paintings in series allows me to work more easily, it gives me a direction, avoids a painting from falling apart in the effort of including too many different elements together in it. In such way I focus on making each one have its own peculiarity inside a bigger picture. Differently from the chapter of a book, each painting needs to have its own features which make it also independent from the others, and it should not need a summary or introduction in order to be read, nothing should speak in its place. I believe the subject which goes through all of this is actually the painting process itself, a certain way to make it.

M: Do you ever change your mind while creating a painting, and then change the direction to its completion? F: Yes, it happens all the time and I find it very rewarding, even if at first sight the change seems to have undone days of work. In painting, you can modify or even reverse what you just did without having to answer to anybody else but you. You don’t have to explain yourself and you don’t need anybody else’s approval. You don’t need any other specialists’ help to finalize your work, and I see it as a big privilege. Of course there is the risk of tossing and turning endlessly and find yourself stuck, compared to working with other people. Keeping yourself open to any external stimuli and be very critical with yourself is crucial. On the other side, there is no undo button to press which could bring you back in time. You cannot simply delete what you just did. You cannot create different trial versions of your final image and then pick the one that most appeals to you. There are always traces of what has been done before on a painting, even if you decide to restart from zero applying a white coat on the canvas. This aspect distinguishes painting for example from music composition, where in the final work you cannot listen to any erasing.

Going back to your question, in order to fully enjoy the act of painting, I prefer to not plan everything that is going to happen next on the canvas. It doesn’t mean you proceed blindly, but rather build and redefine step by step your work. I don’t want to get rid of the traces of this dialog, I try to make them part of the story, in order to show what it could have been but wasn’t, signs of the unforeseen and the unavoidable.

M: What are your future plans? Are you planning to host exhibitions in Italy/abroad or are you mainly focusing on online exhibitions?
F: Currently, with the pandemic going on, it’s quite impossible to make any plans. I consider myself lucky to be able to keep my work life busy right now and, whether I wanted it or not, I have never painted as much as I did in 2020. I recently moved to a new studio, with more space and perfect for my needs, it is what I wanted for a long time. It represents a milestone and still needs to be fully organized. Meanwhile I hope the world will be back to some sort of normality and I will be then back on track, ready to plan future exhibitions. I would love to bring abroad something like Discanto, an exhibition hold in Bologna in 2018, where I could take care of every detail. I would also like to make a short film about the sounds of painting in 2021, and the new studio would be the perfect location. I know I still want to search and find new paintings. I never had the resources and the awareness that I have now, so I know they are going to happen, it’s just a matter of time.

January 2021